What does music do to the brain?

Dr Diana Omigie

Cognitive neuroscience is pushing boundaries and is now able to pinpoint specific signatures of the brain, differentiating between nuanced emotions like how we experience awe and beauty - vastly complex feelings that, until now, have been out of reach.

Learn about this Garden Talk

Music is a complex stimulus that is a critical tool in the field of cognitive neuroscience. Using direct observations and imaging techniques like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), it allows us to ask specific questions about brain activity, such as how our grey matter behaves when music-listening, -performing, -composing, -reading and -writing. 

But scientists have been upping the ante on what we can learn by observing the brain “on music”. Historically, focus has been aimed at studying patterns created by our base emotions, like “happy” vs “sad” or, the level of arousal we might feel; universal emotions we share with other animals. Now, this field of research is focussing on aesthetic emotions that are not utilitarian - emotions that do not help us to survive, for instance, or to procreate. 

By collecting rich information from measurable areas of the brain, scientists can better understand how cognition can become emotion, answering tough questions like what does “awe” look like, or “transcendence,’ or how does our brain appear when we are experiencing “beauty”?

Dr Diana Omigie is a music and arts-loving lecturer and course leader at Goldsmiths University, London. In her Garden Talk, she reveals how cognitive neuroscience is pushing frontiers when it comes to examining specific signatures of the brain and is now able to differentiate between nuanced emotions like love and tenderness. Such vastly complex feelings that, until now, have been out of reach.

Talk outline


50 minutes

What to expect

50 minute talk

20 minute Member Q&A

Dr Diana Omigie

Dr Diana Omigie holds a lectureship in Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, which is also where she runs the Msc course Music, Mind and Brain.

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